How Long Does Grieving Last?
When a loss in our lives happens, the experience that we feel can bring us down a pathway of many emotions and thoughts. Our grief is a natural thing to feel as it can be overwhelming to have thoughts of not being able to feel or experience with the people we’ve lost anymore. The loss that we feel is understood as a natural part of our life experiences, but that still does not make it an easy thing to overcome; nor does that mean it would be easy to dismiss.
Grieving is typically characterized by strong feelings of sorrow or sadness mixed with a deep desire of wanting to have moments with the person we mourn for even once. The experience of grief and loss can also manifest a difficult and heavy combination of feelings like sadness, anger, and guilt. Other feelings associated with grieving might feel similar to a depressive episode with numbness and emptiness in us, but they are still a part of our natural grieving process because of the association with the loss that has happened. Even if the loss of our loved one was not by sudden circumstance, the initial emotions can still feel highly draining.
Everyone grieves in their own way. Some might initially question how long this process should last, or how long of grieving is too long. We will put some focus on how we can understand grieving as a continual process and the normalcy of grief and mourning. An important thought to mention is that while we might have an expectation of what grieving is, that there is not one proper way to mourn the loss of a loved one; nor is there a proper schedule for grieving.
Structure of Grief
Many of us might be familiar with some of the typical models of grieving. The most notable one being the Kubler-Ross model that identified the 5 Stages of Grieving:
- Denial: This can be described as a defense mechanism that we utilize to numb out the reality of the loss we’ve experienced. The thoughts we have might sound something like, “This can’t be happening,” or, “I don’t believe it.”
- Anger: Being faced with the reality of our loss, we feel frustrated or helpless which might present itself as outbursts of anger. This feeling might be directed towards others in your life, or other areas of your life. Some have also felt anger towards the deceased.
- Bargaining: In this stage, our thoughts are characterized as wondering what we could have done differently, and if that difference could have prevented the loss. Common thoughts typically might begin with “If only…” or “What if…”.
- Depression: Feelings of sadness that begin to seep in as we begin to understand the loss and its effect on us.
- Acceptance: The proposed final stage of grieving in this model. Accepting the reality of the loss we’ve experienced and not being able to change it. We begin to fully move forward while also acknowledging feelings that we have associated with the loss.
This particular model along with many others might suggest that grieving is linear. While this model and its stages are commonly linked to what grieving looks like, a more realistic understanding is that grief is constant work that is full of twists and turns; again indicative of grieving being a continuing process.
For example, we might begin at denial but feel depression for a time. Then we feel acceptance but then feel depression soon after. An easy and understandable thought to have is that once we presumably get to acceptance, then it’s all over for grieving. But depending on the impact of the loss, there can be many variations for what grieving looks like and how long it can last.
How and when to get to the end of grieving can be a hard question to answer. If we take these specific stages of grieving as a primary example, the “hows” and “whens” can depend on the significance of the relationship we’ve had with those that we’ve lost. It would not be fair to make the comparison of our own grieving process to someone else’s towards the same person because the impact they’ve had on us is validly different. To say that we should be acting or feeling one particular way after a certain period of time could add more weight to the pain we carry with our mourning. It can also disregard the emotions we as human beings experience in our own natural way of grieving.
Moving with Loss
We and those around us might have certain expectations for how to grieve, whether it’s pacing or methodology. Grief changes with time; and it occurs so that we can move with the emotions that come with the loss. For some, grieving might last 1 month. For others, it can last for much longer than that.
The early moments might catch you in a hurricane of logistical things to sort out, and you could also feel the strongest of strong emotions. What we do and feel in our time of mourning ultimately depends on what we think might help us move in our grief. There might be things that trigger a memory or a current experience that brings us back to a time with that person.
There is no proper way to move with the loss that we’ve experienced. It is a continual adjustment that we might not be able to confide in someone anymore or that we cannot experience new memories with that person in the future. Mourning takes time, but can also be a catalyst for instilling a new sense of being, offering new ideas for purpose and direction.
How Can I Move with My Grieving?
Working through your grieving experience can be tough. Being in the emotional pain that loss can encompass, it can be tempting to dull your sensations through various ways. Temporary escapes such as isolation, alcohol or substances can lead to deeper issues alongside mourning such as depression.
These are some suggestions for how to grieve but also continuing to move. Some might be appropriate for you during specific moments of your grieving, others that can be actionable as the moment comes:
- Creating rituals or customs: In many cultures, there are certain rituals that helps us to honor and respect those that we’ve lost. Examples such as wakes or funerals allow us to acknowledge the loss with others in a gathered place. Other times, depending on one’s culture or preferences, people might have a custom of visiting the burial site of those that we’ve lost as a way of continuing to be closer with them for a brief moment.
- Talking with close ones: Spending time with friends and family can lead to a stronger sense of support and comfort especially as it comes from those closest to you. As mentioned above, isolation can lead to darker paths. Being able to have our close support system to talk to can also bring positive memories and experiences from those very same people, allowing for not only your grieving to be validated, but also shared.
- Finding a support group: Similar to the first point, finding a group with others who are also grieving from their own personal experiences can allow for a sense of community to be felt. It can help to feel connected and let others support you.
- Self-care: Being able to have a healthy routine of exercise, diet, and sleep can help us maintain our mental health as we walk with our emotions.
- Acknowledge parts of your grieving: What we struggle with and feel emotionally is a normal part of our mourning process. Many of us might be accustomed to suppressing these emotions because of expectations we or others have. It is encouraged to find ways to feel and process what we emote. Being able to name the various emotions we feel during these times and what they are telling us can help us work through any conflicts that exist.
To conclude, there might not be a proper schedule for how long grieving should last. Rather, the process as a whole is filled with ups and downs of both positives and negatives. There can be many actionable items we can do to help us along our grieving experiences to let us acknowledge what we are thinking and feeling.
Suggesting that acceptance in grieving is something to achieve as quickly as possible would be dismissive towards your emotions and the memories we share of our loved ones. Acknowledging that it is okay to feel angered or triggered because of specific places or anniversaries, for example, would allow us to remember the importance of that significant other person. Grieving does not have a specific timeline. Rather, it is a continual process because certain things can remind us of the person we are missing.
A gentle reminder that there is no correct or proper way to grieve. At times it can be pleasant, other times it can be ugly. It would be unfair to ourselves to treat the emotions and memories that come up during grieving as flowing through linearly.
It’s OK That You're Not OK by Megan Devine
Our article on grieving during the holidays:
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